Contrapasso (2016)

This was a short story that I had written in 2016, inspired by the string of racially-charged shootings in America. This was the first story that I have written about the shooting of Black victims at the hands of Whites. And it will probably be the only one because I truly don’t like writing about this subject matter. However, it was for a short fiction contest.

The story is about an interracial couple that flees across states after a confrontation turns deadly at a gas station. The story reflects on themes of subconscious racism, American gun culture, classism, mental illness, and colorism.


“Give me the gun, Rick.”

“No… I can’t.”

“You need to get rid of that thing tonight!”

The horrific incident of that night replayed continuously in Crystal’s head; a bloody scene without sound. She could barely look at the face of her fiancé, Rick. His hazel gray eyes were wild and jerky. Sweat dripped from the pores of his scalp, plastering strings of hair to his forehead. His moist palms slipped down the steering wheel, causing him to tighten his grip, trying his damnedest not to concentrate until he got to a sufficient hideout location.

“Why won’t you just pull over and throw it in a field?” Crystal yelled.

“I can’t!” Rick banged his hands on the wheel.  

“Why? You feel you need to protect us again?” Tears burst from her tired eyes. “Isn’t protecting me what’s gotten us into this in the first place?”

Rick gave her a perturbed side glance but didn’t respond. Crystal stared down at the digital clock on her smartphone, tracing the white numbers with her eyes.

“It’s almost midnight,” she whimpered. “My parents are going to be calling soon to see if we made it home, Rick. You know how nervous they get.”

Rick continued to stay silent and fixated on the dark road ahead. Crystal sighed and stared at the photo of her and Rick on the home screen’s wallpaper. They were standing in front of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, at the museum they visited in New York. Rick’s ivory skin and Crystal’s deep brown complexion were harmonious like the textured midnight blue and swirling yellows in the painting behind them. She enjoyed a few seconds of escapism in that photo, but she had to drag her eyes back up to look at Rick in real-time, driving aimlessly in a state of hellish paranoia.

Suddenly, her phone lit up and vibrated across her lap, with the names ‘Mom & Dad’ flashing brightly. She burst into tears and repeated maniacally through her sobs, “What can I tell them?”

Rick zipped in front of an eighteen-wheeler and then across the two right lanes before pulling over to the side of the highway. He inhaled deeply, then exhaled, and sat silently for a few seconds. In a flash, he threw the door open and vomited on the side of the road. Minutes later, he was able to regain his composure a few.

“Don’t answer it,” he grumbled, throat burning from the acidic purge.

“Our parents are going to be looking for us,” Crystal cried. “What if they come to campus to search for us?”

“Then, tell them we can’t make it—car problems.”

Then Crystal asked, “Where exactly are we going? How long will we be gone?”

“I don’t know, goddamn it!” Then he immediately calmed down and apologized lovingly. “Maybe a few days.”

“A few days?”

“Yes!”

Crystal felt a tinge of luck that they had luggage in the trunk since they were returning from a road trip to New York City. Then, she suddenly visualized her mother walking into her job at the news station and receiving the Breaking News information of a deadly shooting at a gas station in Garside Park.


SEPTEMBER 17, 2015 – 10:55 PM

They were only fifteen minutes away from home when the needle dropped to ‘E’. Rick got off of freeway exit 24A—the infamous Garside Park.

“This neighborhood is dangerous,” Crystal complained. “Go somewhere else!”

“Either we get gas,” Rick answered, “or we won’t make it home.”

“You’re about to drive through the ghetto in a Lexus SUV,” Crystal argued. “I guess you’re asking for us to be robbed!”

“Babe… I have a gun.” He asked Crystal to open the glove compartment, so she could see for herself. A silver Smith-and-Wesson Magnum was on top of a disheveled pile of folded receipts, auto repair invoices, tangled USB cords, and fix-it-yourself manuals. “Don’t worry, sweetie. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“But what if something happens to you?” Crystal wrinkled her brows as she shot him puppy eyes.

“I’d rather risk my life protecting you.”

Rick pulled up into the nearly vacant gas station in Garside Park. After putting the car in park, he gently touched the side of Crystal’s face. Then he opened his glove compartment and took the gun out, unzipped his jacket, and slid the gun into the hidden pocket.

“I don’t want you staying in the car by yourself,” he took her hand. “C’mon.”

As the two got out of the car, they watched three young Black women step out of an older Pontiac across from them. Rap music vibrated from the Pontiac’s subwoofers, causing every piece of rust hanging from the car to rattle. The girls left the car running as they walked into the station together. The girls were having a loud, obscenity-filled conversation as they scrambled into the gas station. Crystal exchanged a perturbed glance with Rick.

“Let’s make this quick,” Crystal mumbled.

Crystal frowned to herself in disgust at the girl with bright red braids and tattoos on her left arm. Then she noticed the second girl had blonde hair extensions and facial piercings. The red-haired girl caught Crystal frowning as she clutched her Gucci bag close to her side—a Christmas gift from her parents. The silent exchange between the two women created energy filled with molecules of shame, jealousy, and fear.

Inside the gas station, the red-haired girl caught another glimpse of Crystal at the checkout window. The first thing that the girl looked at was Crystal’s bag. Then, she sucked her teeth, and commented to her friend, “The fuck that bitch got Gucci for?” Crystal pretended she didn’t hear what came out of the girl’s mouth. But when the girls walked out of the door, the red-haired girl jeered loudly, “That nappy head bitch starin’ at me like she think she sumthin’… You know she sucked that cracka’s dick for that Gucci!” The girls nearly fell out laughing at their red-haired friend.

“Ignore them,” Rick whispered to Crystal. He caught the Black male cashier shaking his head at the rambunctious girls.

After paying for the gas, the couple rushed out the gas station door. Crystal and the red-haired girl gave each other one last look; a look that lasted a second but had five hundred years of animosity, division, and shame embedded in it.

“Bitch, whatchu you keep lookin’ at me for?” the girl screeched.

“Nobody’s even lookingat you!” Crystal fired back.

In a flash, all three of the girls jumped into Crystal’s face, yelling threats and pushing their fingers against her forehead. Rick pulled Crystal away, and the girls continued to shout and follow them across the station lot. Rick reached his hand into his coat. Within a few blurry, nightmarish seconds, he open-fired on the three young women. Crystal let out a bloodcurdling scream as she witnessed the face of the red-haired girl disintegrate into a cloud of blood and brain matter. More bullets fired and blew the blonde girl’s chest open. A stray bullet tore through the arm of the third girl, sending her flying across the lot. Crystal screamed for Rick to stop, pulling the gun from his hands, and then running back to the car with it.

From inside the car, Crystal watched Rick as he stood frozen, gaping at the gory mess that he created. He watched as the severely bloodshot eyes of the surviving girl wailed in horror as she writhed on the ground. Rick looked up at the gas station window and saw the cashier glowering at him, holding the phone in his trembling hand as he called the police. Rick bolted to his car and got in. Pedal to the metal, he zoomed out of the gas station, hoping that the cashier would quickly forget the license plate number.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2015 – 2:00 AM

The couple found a hotel somewhere at the Illinois-Kentucky border. Rick knew that he and Crystal had to live the next couple of days as if the police were searching for them. A white man shot three black girls—a bell for the journalistic Pavlovian dogs. The people would be fed consecutive news soundbites flashing the words BLACK VICTIMS and WHITE MAN and SHOOTING. In the bed, Crystal scoured the internet on her smartphone in search of any news about the shooting. Rick was lying beside her on the bed.

“Why would you read the news?” He cried. “Why would you go looking for it in the news?”

“How else would we come up with a plan if we don’t know what’s happening back at home?” Crystal fired back.

Neither could fall asleep, bathe, nor eat. Hotels always put the couple in the mood, but of course, those sexual urges had been annihilated by their crisis. Rick spent the rest of the night sitting by the window, staring out at the parking lot until it lit up beneath the sunrise. About four or so hours later, Crystal logged into her Facebook account. On the timeline page, she saw that one of her friends shared a news story. Below the headline was a photo of a gas station. In the picture, the bloodstains had darkened into the concrete. The gas station looked dark and empty, lit by a weak orange street light. Bright yellow police tape was the only thing standing out against the gritty darkness and silhouettes of police officers examining the scene. Below the photo, written in bold print:

3 WOMEN SHOT ON CHICAGO’S WESTSIDE, 2 DEAD

Crystal clicked on the link that led her to the official news story and she scrolled past the names/ages of the dead girls: LAMIYA WILLIAMS, 20, and TANYA JACKSON, 18. RYKIA SHIPP, 19 was the survivor, the one who identified the “white man with the gun and his black girlfriend.” Then, she skimmed the words of Shipp: “That dude’s girl tried to start a fight with us. We were just trying to defend ourselves. Then all I know, he starts shooting.” Crystal kept scrolling until her heart pounded at the words: Williams was a single mother, survived by her three-year-old daughter.

“One of those girls was a mother,” Crystal said in a shaky voice, “A single mother.”

Rick recoiled as chills prickled his neck and forehead. The surrounding space spun, but he quickly regained his momentum. He shot up and tried to snatch the phone from Crystal.

“Why?” He wailed. “Why would you read that shit? Stop it!”

“Rick, stop it!” Crystal tightened the phone in her grip, as Rick tried to wrestle it from her. She suddenly tossed the phone on the floor, and Rick immediately curled up in a fetal position. He buried his face in his hands and let out a loud, painful scream. Crystal clenched his body in her arms and rested her head against his.

“Those girls were taken to Mount Sinai,” Crystal said hoarsely. “You know my dad works there. What if he knows? What if he operated on the girl who was shot in the arm?”

Rick pulled himself out of Crystal’s embrace, then curled up on the bed with his knees drawn to his chest. Suddenly, he jolted up and flew off of the bed. He dropped to his knees in front of his suitcase and started throwing his belongings back inside.

“What’s the matter? What are you doing?” Crystal cried.

“Pack your stuff,” he said emergently. “We’re getting out of here.”


SEPTEMBER 20, 2015 – 12:30 PM

Two days, fourteen hours—broken up by overnight hotel stops—, and several hundred miles later, the couple ended up at a lodge near a harbor in Norfolk, Virginia. After checking in, Crystal fell right to sleep once they got into the room. Rick couldn’t believe she was able to rest, while his body shivered from a combination of sleep deprivation and paranoia. So, he left the room and took a walk outside.

Rick strolled through the drizzle, disconnected from what was around him until his feet led him to a harbor. While staring out at the water’s edge, he mentally watched himself at ten years old, in the back seat of his mother’s car. It was a flashback of six days before Christmas when he and his mother were robbed in the department store parking lot. Sacrificing safety for pre-Christmas sales, she risked her and her child’s life and disregarded her husband’s warnings of shopping at night during Christmas week. Two men wearing black winter coats threw her and her son out of their car at gunpoint. One of the men snatched the mother’s purse, nearly breaking the strap off. Rick vividly remembered their Black faces. But he could not look at them for too long before being forced to kneel in the middle of the parking lot next to his mother. The sound of the bullet tearing through his mother’s arm resonated through his head. Even after surviving that traumatic robbery, his mother still dedicated her career towards counseling youth that were bred from an environment similar to those carjackers. Rick endured the reoccurring nightmares, the psychiatric diagnosis, and the hidden phobia of dark faces in secluded places at night. Prozac and Xanax could only do so much. His faith in God and his adoration for his fiancée kept him alive. But after that gas station incident, he felt he was no longer deserving of God’s forgiveness or Crystal’s heart.

Rick accepted he had succumbed to a vicious cycle, and he wanted out of it. When he caught a few bystanders peering at him, he rushed back to the lodge. The back of his head itched as he felt the invisible cop on his heels. The shadow grew darker and bigger as he picked up speed. He glanced over his shoulder every second, seeing the shadows in the rain that no one else around him could see. He anticipated a heavy hand landing on his back, and pulling him down to the ground to shackle him in handcuffs. The ghoulish shadow crept behind him, brushing against his elbow. His eyes nearly popped from its sockets as he shouted at it, only to see that it had disappeared.

When Rick returned to the hotel room, he found Crystal sitting up in the bed with her eyes glued to her phone. She was rocking back and forth with her legs folded, and her eyes were blazing red with anger.

“When are you getting rid of that gun?” Crystal asked.

“I’m going to get rid of it when we get to Florida,” Rick muttered.

“What’s in Florida?”

“Family. My cousin’s there.”

Crystal began to heave, feeling herself wanting to collapse into another panic attack.

“I just read that the police are on a manhunt.” Then she shouted, “None of this shit would’ve happened had you listened to me!”

Rick lowered his eyes and dug his hands deeper into his pockets. He turned around and opened the door.

“We can’t hide for long, Rick!” Her lips trembled as tears poured down her cheeks. “I’m running out of lies to tell our parents who keep asking if we made it back home! Now, you want to pull more family into this mess? We can’t live our entire lives in hiding!”

“Fuck Florida, then.” Without looking at her, he uttered, “I guess it’ll end here.”

Rick fell into a zombified stupor as he walked out of the door, gently closing it behind him. Crystal jumped out of the bed, flung the door back open, and shouted for him to come back. But he continued down the hallway. She slammed the door and muffled her sobs behind her shaky hand. Through the teary blur, she noticed the kaleidoscope of white sparkles that reflected across her fingers. She calmed down as the post-rain sun, beaming through the window, pulled her attention to the glittering engagement ring. She twisted the decadent loop of diamonds around her finger twice, tempted to yank it off, leave and catch a bus back home. Then Crystal thought about how much money Rick put aside for that fifty-thousand dollar ring, despite the colossus of med school debt he accrued. Still, the thought of the little girl learning of her mother’s death clouded Crystal’s perception of her fiancé. She wondered who was going to take that little girl in since her mother was the only one raising her.

“He’s no murderer,” Crystal mouthed silently to herself. She shut her eyes tight when the gritty image of the red-haired girl’s mutilated face flashed into her head. “He’s no murderer… He’s no…” She repeated those words in her head until she was able to lie down for a nap.

Crystal woke up an hour later and noticed that Rick hadn’t returned. She called his phone, but it was off. She rushed to the balcony to see if Rick’s car was gone and noticed the car was still there, but Rick wasn’t in it. As she walked towards the fridge to get water, she noticed a folded-up piece of paper next to the television. She unfolded it and read a message:

I’m a victim of a hellish cycle. I love you, but I did not deserve you. –Rick

Crystal stood over the nightstand, paper in hand, struggling to process what she had read. The paper trembled in her grip, as her shock cascaded into sadness then sudden rage. She snatched the ring off her finger, threw it at the wall, and screamed. Her angry howling was suddenly drowned out by muffled gunfire and the chilling shrieks of a woman outside. Crystal ran outside to the balcony and spotted the scene of commotion where she heard the woman screaming. A small but clamorous throng of people surrounded Rick’s car.

With a pounding heart, Crystal hurried down the stairs and rushed to the crowd of people. She shoved through the crowd, shouting, “My fiancé’s in there! Let me through!”

She continued to push her way through until she got to the window and saw the blood splattered all over it. Rick slouched over in the driver’s seat, the side of his blown skull gushing blood. She banged on the window, wailing his name as she watched his widened eyes cease movement, and roll back into darkness, as life escaped from his vessel.

In a swift motion, she jumped over the hood and flung herself inside the passenger seat of the car, shutting and locking the door. Once inside, she threw her arms around Rick’s body and held his bloodied face against hers. She glanced down at the Magnum in Rick’s stiff, half-opened hand. An emergency siren wailed in the distance, a few hundred feet from the lodge, but Crystal forced herself to ignore it. The people still surrounded the vehicle, staring in horror at the pieta of Crystal and Rick. She draped his body across her lap, holding his stiffened hand and interlacing her ringless fingers through his, staying this way until the EMS arrived, knocked on the window, and interrupted her last words to him.

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